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The Man from Rome (De Man uit Rome)

Italian priest investigates a crying Virgin Mary statue in the Netherlands, in the familiar and yet inconclusive battle between faith and science - from the Official Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Father Filippo (played by Italian heartthrob Michele Riondino, winner of the Best Actor at Venice Film Festival 2016 and EFP Shooting Star at Berlin International Film Festival 2010) is an Italian priest who shudders at lies and manipulation, and has a strong attachment to science and reason. The movie opens with a very peculiar statistic: the President of the United States lied 13,000 times in his first 1,000 days in office, and then went on Twitter to say that that was a lie”. Our truth-loving protagonist is sent to a small town in the Netherlands in order to investigate the strange case of a weeping Virgin Mary statue, and to determine whether it should be qualified as a “miracle”.

The young and beautiful priest is not impressed by the behaviour of locals, particularly the guardian of the item: the mother of the young and mysteriously silent Terese (played by German actress Emma Bading). They want the priest to bless the statue, but he insists that he should conduct a careful investigation first. He’s hellbent on leaving no stone unturned, presumably convinced that the “miracle” is either a fraud or a collective delusion with a rational explanation. That’s particularly unusual for a man of God, someone who works for a religious institution defined by ancient manuscripts and supernatural doctrine. The narrative that follows is constructed upon a duel between of reason versus faith, evidence versus wonder, rationality versus superstition. Filippo believes that nobody should settle for the comfort of lies, but instead seek the pain of truth. But why should one suffer when they can live happily in oblivion? If religion is the opium of the people, shouldn’t we all just get high?

Terese never utters a word “because she hit her head some time ago”, an explanation that Father Filippo does not seem to buy. She does occasionally communicate with the priest by typing on a mobile phone. Most crucially, she seems to have an inexplicable connection to the “crying” statue. Locals become distressed as our clergyman-turned-sleuth questions the veracity of the tears. He purchases an identical Virgin Mary statue and then subjects the poor item to eye-plucking and sawing in order to determine whether there’s any water inside. And he wishes to remove the miraculous statue out of its makeshift pedestal and protective glass case and take it for a scan, ruffling some feathers in the community. Increasingly indignant believers have no doubt that the Virgin Mary is responsible for a string of small miracles, such as a man who stopped feeling excruciating pain after looking into the eyes of the wooden item. The male speculates that perhaps Terese might have godly powers, and that she is the one responsible for the miraculous healing. One way or another, these people do not want the priest to take their biggest source of faith and hope away. Why would they give up their favourite drug?

Forty-four-year-old Dutch filmmaker Jaap van Heusden’s fourth feature film is a carefully crafted and mostly auspicious drama. It contains a few tiresome philosophical platitudes and a rather awkward ending, however it never slips into unwarranted didacticism, leaving viewers instead to make up their own mind.

The Man from Rome just premiered in the Official Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 10-11-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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